The BBC received a torrent of complaints from angry viewers last week following disturbing footage aired in the new series Horse People.

The programme, which was broadcast on BBC Two on Tuesday (7 April) night, featured presenter Alexandra Tolstoy following horse herders in the remote region of Yakutia in Siberia.

The herder’s diet mainly consists of horse meat.

More than 100 people complained after footage was shown of a horse being strangled before being clubbed round the head with an axe and stabbed in the heart.

It was then promptly skinned for eating and its hooves were cut were cut off to make the local delicacy — jellied hoof meet.

The mare was killed as she hadn’t produced a foal and so was used to feed the community.

A warning preceded the documentary stating: “Tonight’s programme features a community who cares deeply for their animals, but ultimately, in scenes which some may find upsetting, kill them for food.”

But many viewers were appalled.

One H&H forum user said: “I can’t believe what I just saw. I was almost sick when they showed a mare strangled/beaten to death and then skinned. Was it really necessary to show this in such graphic detail – even if a warning was given at the start of the programme? Please please ring up the BBC and log a complaint.”

But many H&H forum users disagreed saying it was part of the herders culture, many calling it “fascinating”.

“It was clear to me that these people cared about their horses and looked after them and treated them well,” said one user.

While another called it “a fair representation of their way of life”.

“I was sick and I cried BUT I won’t complain because it was really interesting, and we can’t impose our culture onto other people. I made the choice to watch it even after the warning,” added another.

Another said: “Personally if I contact the Beeb it will be to congratulate them on showing such an open documentary about a different culture and way of life, I could not live how they do and could not kill animals in the way they do, but found it a fascinating insight into how people live in such a desolate place.”

Ian Kelly, director of international training at World Horse Welfare said: “The Yakut people have a great deal of respect for their horses whom they are dependent on for food and it was evident that their horses were very well cared for. The horse that was destroyed in Tuesday night’s edition on Horse People on BBC2 was totally unhandled and was destroyed relatively quickly.

“However, World Horse Welfare does not condone the manner in which it was undertaken and accepts that it was not humane. Unfortunately, this is not purely a cultural issue but an independent way of life for the Yakut people’s survival.”

A BBC spokesman said: “While Alexandra was staying with the herders they were asked to provide the meat for a horse fertility ceremony and therefore one of the horses had to be slaughtered.

“We did warn viewers in advance that they may find some scenes upsetting, as Alexandra herself clearly does. But the horse’s death was included to show the reality of the life the herders lead.

“As Alexandra says, the welfare of the animals when they are alive is of utmost importance to the men. Their whole lives are a constant struggle against nature and they do not have the luxury of being able to keep an animal when it is no longer useful.”

www.worldhorsewelfare.org